Demonstrating the value of a mentor
In the summer before school began, Jennifer McCoy was already in the principal’s office.
The rural high school English teacher was being paired with Bloomington High School (BHS) Principal Tim Moore for Illinois State’s redesigned principal preparation program.
His school was twice the size of McCoy’s, and the student population much more diverse.
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McCoy was in the first cohort of the Department of Educational Administration and Foundations’ revised P–12 educational administration program in 2013. Neither she nor her mentor really knew what to expect. Scanning her curriculum, it quickly became clear it was much different than the Illinois State principal preparation program he completed in 2001. At the time, he was a dean and had one year to complete the program to become a principal. There was no extensive field experience embedded in the coursework.
“My internship experience was nothing like what they get now, not even close,” Moore said. “When I first met with Jen and she showed me all the competencies, it was unbelievable. My role was to facilitate and give her opportunities. There are huge benefits to the way the program is set up now. You have the opportunity to practice; it’s like student teaching.”
McCoy already had two degrees from Illinois State, a bachelor’s in English education in 1995 and a master’s in reading in 2012. She was attracted to the principal prep program because of her interest in instructional coaching.
“I really found that love for instructional coaching and that’s what led me to this program,” McCoy said. “The principal is the learning leader of the building. You have that opportunity to impact more people. I looked at other programs, but I chose ISU because I knew I’d be prepared. I knew I’d be able to handle the things that are thrown at you on a daily basis. And the mentorship was invaluable.”
Moore said mentoring works both ways and it was helpful to get the perspective of an educator from another district who had experience in elementary and middle school.
“Being able to hear from an instructional standpoint how an elementary or middle school principal would work with a teacher to help them improve is a different approach than we may have in high school,” he said. “Jen was really helpful to us in her time here.”
As part of the Illinois State curriculum, McCoy became certified in teacher evaluation. It isn’t only a good bullet point for a resume, it also made her a valuable resource for BHS.
“I was really impressed with her ability around teacher leadership and around teacher evaluation. She was able to help us with our some of our teachers at BHS,” Moore said.
In her former school, Pontiac Township High School, she was on leadership teams but was viewed as a teacher, not a part of the administration. At BHS, McCoy was a valued member of the administrative team at a school with nearly 1,400 students and only two assistant principals.
“We look at (the mentorship) as an opportunity for them to learn, but it also is an opportunity for them to help,” Moore said. “It gives us another administrator in our building for a semester and we’ll take that every time.”
McCoy worked extensively with a new teacher who needed mentoring at BHS. Moore said their work together was a mutual benefit that will carry through both of their careers.
“While that was a good experience for Jen, it was also a good opportunity for our teacher,” he said. “For them to be able to hear a different perspective that’s not just from me or another administrator who’s evaluating them, that was really helpful.”
Those experiences are important to relate during an interview, he added.
“If you can go into an interview and talk about real experiences you’ve had around evaluations, working with a struggling teacher to help them improve, working with a leadership team and looking at data, analyzing it and seeing the end result, that’s valuable,” he said.